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May declared Wildfire Mitigation and Risk Reduction Preparedness Month

HONOLULU — Gov. Josh Green on Friday — the 276th day since the Aug. 8 Maui wildfires — proclaimed May as Wildfire Mitigation and Risk Reduction Preparedness Month.

“We are now past the nine-month mark since the tragedy,” Green said.

Of the initial 3,071 households that were displaced, 80.3% have been able to get into long-term housing, according to Green.

“We wanted to remind people that we intend to build well over 1,000 transitional houses,” Green said.

There were also 1,502 residential lots in Maui that had to be cleared: 391 have been cleared and returned to their owners, while 971 have had basic clearance but still have to go through the final touches before being returned to families.

More than 98% of wildfires in Hawaii are due to campfires, open flames, improper cigarette disposal or equipment malfunction.

Green recommended that the state create defensible spaces around homes, develop mapped-out evacuation plans and engage in communitywide preparedness initiatives to mitigate the impact of fires.

In terms of preparedness, Green said the state has approved 40 Remote Automatic Weather Stations to provide updated data to the National Weather Service, enhancing awareness for people through additional observation points on the ground and improving abilities to predict and assess potential risks.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources and state Department of Transportation are collaborating in bringing in the 40 RAWs, which cost about $1 million.

Ed Sniffen, state transportation director, said that DLNR will install, maintain and operate the RAWs to ensure that the state can get more information to let the public and emergency management agencies know how to address wildfire issues.

Sniffen said DOT has initiated collaboration with state and county emergency management offices, as well as fire departments, to identify wildfire-prone areas within communities. The agencies have begun clearing these areas to mitigate fuel buildup, thereby lowering the risk of wildfires affecting people and communities, he said.

“To date, we’ve cleared about 500 acres so far at a cost about $9 million,” he said. “And there’s more to come because we continue to work with our partners to find more areas of concern.”

James Barros, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator, said that among other organizations, the state has been working with the military’s Indo-Pacific Command Defense Support of Civil Authorities, which is “postured and ready to support our state when we’re in need.”

HI-EMA has also been collaborating with Hawaiian Electric in “pursuing various mitigation opportunities so that the state can build more resilient and reliant communities across each county,” and with the Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization to “help promote and elevate wildfire awareness and education throughout our state.”

“Our state agencies, they have their kuleana, and they play a critical role in preparing our state to meet future challenges,” Barros said. “Each department will contribute in their unique ways as we are well equipped — we’re postured and resilient to face the next challenge.”

Hiro Toya — Honolulu Department of Emergency Management Agency administrator — said that on the county level he’s working to increase the capabilities and the coordination with the fire department across all levels of government.

On identifying alternate evacuation routes, Toya said the agency is in collaboration with private landowners along with military and other government levels to ensure that the routes have been identified with a plan on how to use those alternate routes.

DOT has been working on five evacuation routes and has identified a sixth route, also working with the military in obtaining emergency access for those on the Leeward Coast.

“Even though we cannot build new roads tomorrow, we can start cutting new emergency accesses immediately,” Sniffen said.

Sniffen said the DOT will travel to Washington, D.C., next week to meet with representatives from the Army and Navy to “commemorate this agreement” and ensure that the DOT remains committed to maintaining accessibility to these areas for the public.

Wildfire prevention, Toya said, would be a “collective responsibility” among the government’s county, state and federal levels; nonprofit partners; community organizations; and both individuals and households.
Source: The Garden Island

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